If robots are taking our jobs, then everyone should get a universal basic income
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Picture of a Google driverless car. Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson at Creative Commons

Shane Greenup argues that if jobs will continue to disappear, as Google CEO Larry Page predicts, then everyone in the world should get a universal basic income.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page revealed a truth that the rest of the world is slowly beginning to realize: Jobs are disappearing, and they aren’t coming back.

Machines have provided our repetitive manual labor for a long time, but now they are starting to replace more complicated actions. We’ve already watched as we lose six cashier jobs to one self-checkout attendant job. We’ve watched customer service representatives, sales assistants and managers be replaced by websites with automated picking processes in warehouses. And we’re now starting to watch companies like Google develop driverless cars that will eventually replace every taxi driver, truck driver, bus driver and more over the coming years.

Page understands this because he is at the forefront of the innovation, constantly aware of what is coming.

Photo Credit: Stansfield PL at Creative Commons

Photo of Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page. Photo Credit: Stansfield PL at Creative Commons

“When we have computers that can do more and more jobs, it’s going to change how we think about work. There’s no way around that. You can’t wish it away,” Page told FT.

He indicates that it doesn’t make sense for people to work so much, but that in the future, it won’t matter because technology will make things much cheaper. If everything does indeed become cheaper, then that will be a great start, but ‘much cheaper’ is still ‘way too expensive’ to people with no income.

The way out: Provide everyone a universal basic income

Page indicated that he wants to make people’s lives better, so I have a suggestion for how Google could help make people’s lives significantly better in this near future of rampant unemployment: Run a universal basic income (UBI) experiment now.

The universal basic income concept has quickly gained a lot of interest in the futurist community as a solution to the problem of AI-driven unemployment, and with good reason.

Under the current system, if you don’t have a job, you don’t get money. If you don’t have money, you can’t live anywhere, or eat. We provide welfare to avoid that problem, but welfare is expensive and the system can only cope with small levels of unemployment. The job losses we can expect to see at the hands of Google’s driverless car alone could potentially smash through those acceptable levels of unemployment.

With high levels of unemployment, the welfare system will fail, poverty will skyrocket, the economy will collapse into another depression, and crime will go through the roof.

It’s insane to think that this could happen at the same time that all of life’s necessities are being produced, constructed and distributed almost completely autonomously by software and robots. And it’s crazy to be facing the risk of extreme poverty when we already live in a time of extreme abundance.

This is why the futurist community is increasingly advocating for the implementation of the universal basic income.

So what exactly is the universal basic income?

Put simply, it is an income that is paid to everyone, no strings attached and no requirements to be met.

It sounds like an extremely utopian (and socialist) proposition, but it has the support of many leading economists, has managed to attract the support of politicians from the left and the right and has consistently returned positive results from a number of pilot studies.

Larry Page, do you want to help make people’s lives better in our near future jobless world?

Photo of Comoros. Photo Credit: Natália Carrascalão Antunes at Creative Commons

Photo of Comoros. Photo Credit: Natália Carrascalão Antunes at Creative Commons

If so, create a foundation to start researching the ideal application of a universal basic income and run some long term experiments on small towns in the USA, or on large areas of third world countries.

Here’s one idea: Set up a UBI in Comoros. It is one of the world’s poorest nations with a population of only 734,000 people. It would cost less than $380 million per annum to provide every single citizen of that country lives of abundance. That’s $500 per person per year, which is a little more than half of the GDP per capita; this is more than enough to cover the cost of living in Comoros.

For less than $4 billion, you can guarantee this income for 10 years – just a small amount of the $62 billion that Google has spare, according to the FT article. Imagine eradicating poverty in an entire nation while running one of the most ambitious experiments ever run, and playing a significant role in solving one of the biggest economic problems looming on our horizon.

The views expressed are of the author.

Geektime invites global tech and startup professionals to share their opinions and expertise with our readers. If you would like to share your point of view, please contact us at info@geektime.com.

Featured Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson at Creative Commons

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Shane Greenup

About Shane Greenup


Shane Greenup is one of the founders of Basic Income Australia. He is a serial entrepreneur and creator of rbutr. Shane graduated from UNSW with majors in Molecular Biology, Philosophy, and the History and Philosophy of Science.

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  • Romjpn

    I’ve been a great basic income enthusiastic for several years. I think it’s the solution for many challenges we are facing at the beginning of the 21st century. Let’s do it !

  • Maurizio Manca

    Stupid question, you will forgive me…
    If we give 500 dollars per year to all the citizens of Comoros, wouldn’t the prices of everything rise accordingly making the impact almost null?

    I would think that raising the possibilities of the citizens, without some politics of prices control, would obviously raise the demand and consequently raise the prices.
    Am I wrong?

  • Ortan Empu

    Shane Greenup, i rarely say this, but i officially love you for this suggestion. It is the perfect solution, especially because EVERYONE, no matter how well off you are or not, gets this basic income. The impact on inflation would be minimal, especially if the income is introduced gradually. This is because the suppliers would have time to increase production so that demand and supply are in sync, and once demand and supply are in sync, there is no need for prices to rise. Remember, prices only rise when demand is greater than supply.

  • Ortan Empu

    There is another thing I wanted to add to this discussion. If governments do not own the robotics firms that will automate our production and lives, then a few greedy capitalist pigs are going to own them, this is going to mean they will benefit from the riches and profit beyond what is reasonable in order to be the richest person in the grave, just like so many billionaires are today. If this income held by a few, then we will not be able to distribute the income in the form of a UBI, this is why it is very critical for governments to develop and own (yes, own completely) these technologies so that the profit from these technologies can be spread out to its population in the form of a Universal Basic Income. If this does not happen, our dream of a UBI is going to be non-existent. How do we intend on tackling this problem? Because if things continue the way they are, we all know that a few people are going to have the majority of the wealth and we are not going to be able to spread the income to everyone – we are going to be jobless (most of us) and live under the poverty line.

    What do you guys think?